Prepare Him Room

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If you come into our house today, you might question whether you are amidst hoarders.

Our den has become the holding place for all that was already in the den, plus the laundry room, plus everything that goes in our bedroom…including our bed which is right smack-dab in the middle of all of it.  There is no door.  I holler down the hallway when I’m changing so the girls won’t accidentally walk in and have images of their post-partum step-mother in their head that should never be.

 

With the hope of a baby coming, last March, we decided to add a bedroom to our home.  It would be finished in June, just in time for me to organize and set things up while I was off for the summer.  Plenty of time, I assured myself.

It’s now December.  We’re sleeping in the den in the middle of cleaning products, random pieces of piled furniture, an over-sized box of dog bones, and baskets of unfolded laundry.  For the past six months, my first-born tendencies toward order and comfort have been stripped away slowly week-by-unfinished-week.

 

A month before our boy was to be born, I woke up one Saturday morning, overwhelmed that our son would not be coming home to the clean, organized, decorated house I had envisioned.  Our space was nowhere near ready for him.  There was no nursery set up yet.  Instead, he would have to sleep in a rocker next to our bed.  In the den with no door.  Next to a box of dog bones.

As it was, I already had to climb over stacks of books and laundry to get into my bed.  That meant I needed to clear a spot for him…amid the mess.

As my belly kept growing, people continued to ask about his nursery (which still had not even been started), so I’d respond by saying that similarly to Jesus’ birth, there is no room at the inn!

This was just not what I had ever envisioned when bringing a baby into the world.

 

 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

This beautiful verse creates a delicate scene in my mind.  Mary, whether by choice or by necessity, didn’t focus on the fact that there were not cozy, ideal conditions for her son.  Perhaps she panicked, as I did, when she realized His welcome wouldn’t be how she ‘d envisioned it.  I wonder how long it took her to accept what would have to be.  As she set her squinky-faced baby in a feeding trough, did she chuckle to herself because she knew she’d tell Him this story for the rest of His life?  Though her swaddle probably didn’t include Velcro and the name of a hospital on the front of it, I would guess she smiled as she saw Him settle into the comfort of His snugly wrap, ready for His first milk-induced nap with a look of contentment on His kissable face.

Maybe it was in that moment she realized that those things really didn’t matter.  He was finally here.  He was hers.  That was all that mattered.

 

I felt the same way on December 7th, when our Mac Martin Huffman was placed on my chest.  I heard his first, deep cry, and nothing else mattered.  He was here, all 9 pounds 6 ounces of our bright-eyed boy, God’s large and lavish gift to me four years after the loss of my first son.  And I couldn’t wait to get him home, to our mess.

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For the past two weeks, he has been sleeping soundly in the rocker next to me.  In the middle of the night, I change his diaper on our bed, and I usually have to clear a spot amid the pillows, clothes, wipes and diapers, but he doesn’t need a lot of space.  We all have exactly what we need.  More on that and Mac in another post…

 

Over and over, I think about how Mary did exactly what God asks us to do during the Christmas season.  Despite the circumstances around her, she still made a place for Him.  As the classic carol proclaims, He simply wants us to “prepare Him room.”

No matter what our circumstances may be, He doesn’t care.  He doesn’t need us to clean everything up for Him.  He just wants us to clear a small space for Him in the midst of the mess, the chaos and the questions – to prepare a place for Him right where we are.

No matter what season you are in, my friend, He wants to be invited in.  Whether you’re doubting Him, you’re angry at Him, you’re not sure what to think about Him, or you’re overjoyed in Him this Christmas season, can you clear a small space for Him there?

He won’t force His way in, but His birth, which ushered Him willingly from the perfection of a Heavenly kingdom to a lifetime of human pain and a death of suffering, proves He loves us.  It proves He is on our side.

He came for us.  And for our mess.

So, may we prepare room for Him.

May we arrange, assemble, and make ready a space for Him this season before it is passed.

May we find a time to slow down in the silence, even for a moment, and welcome Him to come into our lives to do what He wants in us this next year.

May we prepare a small spot, cleared in the chaos, to allow Him to whisper His love and care into our hearts and doubts.

As the carol also says, despite the curse of sadness, death, and fear we find here on Earth, He comes to make His blessings flow in the hard things.

We just have to prepare Him room to do it.

 

Joy to the Word

Joy to the World; The Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King:
Let every Heart prepare him room,
And Heaven and Nature sing.

Joy to the Earth, The Saviour reigns;
Let Men their Songs employ;
While Fields & Floods, Rocks, Hills & Plains
Repeat the sounding Joy.

No more let Sins and Sorrows grow,
Nor Thorns infest the Ground:
He comes to make his Blessings flow
Far as the Curse is found.

He rules the World with Truth and Grace,
And makes the Nations prove
The Glories of his Righteousness,
And Wonders of his Love.

Merry Christmas, you dear people!

Molly

Forgetting What Is Behind

The dried toothpaste spittle glared at me from the rim of the plastic, pink kids’ cup.  I slowly, begrudgingly placed my rinsed off toothbrush in the cup, taking care to prevent its canoodling with the other toothbrushes propped inside the cup. My face scrunched involuntarily in disgust.

I walked out to the kitchen.  Glaring at me through the window was the enormous mud hole in the backyard that will someday become an extra bedroom, but for now, it’s our mud holder.  Please Lord, make the rain stop.

So, I went to sit on the couch to just take a moment.  But as I approached the rumpled cushions, there was mud from a dog paw, a blanket of dog fur, and an overall odor of…dog.

And that’s when it hit me: I miss that little apartment sometimes.

 

Today, I am back in my hometown for a few days to speak at a conference.  I came a few days early to celebrate a friend and her baby.  The party played a slideshow of church trips, vacations, and every day moments that she and I had shared with our other lifelong friends. As I looked at the smiling faces in the photos, I was so grateful, but there was also a tiny ache.

I stayed in the home of another friend, a place that has brought me so much comfort during the darkest days, and I longed for that season with her again, despite how hard my life was during that time.  Her beautiful, decorated, and organized home reminded me of the beautiful, decorated, organized home I had back then.  I loved that house.

I drove around the manicured streets of my city, ate delicious food, and laughed with the people who know me the deepest.  I know it’s not for everyone, but for me it’s so comfortable here.

 

 

Life has changed dramatically even since one year ago when I lived in the comfort of my own, quiet apartment where everything was in its place, dogs stayed off the furniture, and I had all the spacious closets to myself.

After getting married in October, I was sling-shot from quiet comfort to a four-ring circus where I no longer independently control the schedule, the food, the money, or even where I sit during a movie night.  It’s been a shock at times.  I remember pieces of my life before today and long to return to their comfort.

“Lord,” I’ve prayed from my new home in Kentucky, “I want to be here.  I love being married to Guy more than anything.  But what do I do with these yearnings that creep up sometimes for moments and places and friendships from the past?  Help me to find contentment and peace with where I am today.”

One particular Saturday morning, after a long week of crazy, I found myself sitting at home alone.  The movies of the past were playing in my head, and I longed for a calmer and cleaner house, closer entertainment and shopping options, and the convenience of popping over to a close friend’s house to chat.  I could not get these things out of my mind.

It wasn’t that I regretted my move, because being loved by Guy has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.  But I was so exhausted by the mental run-around of constantly wishing I could have some things the way they used to be.

Do you ever get stuck there?

 

So, I sat down on the couch.  I remembered what all God had brought me through – deaths, divorce, and loss upon loss – and I was so grateful.  During that season, I can remember thinking, at least my friends and my home haven’t changed.  I’m glad some important things get to stay the same.

And yet now, even those things are different.  Help, Lord!

I began reading where I’d left off, Philippians 3.  Paul said, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven” (vs. 13).

In the verses previous, Paul had just listed his human qualifications, education, and prestigious positions.  I bet Paul experienced the comforts this life had to offer.  I wonder what it was like for him to give all that up in order to follow where Christ was calling him – traveling the world in harsh conditions to tell people about Christ.  Maybe as a kid Paul just wanted to reach the highest rank of Pharisee (I don’t even know what that would be), but maybe then he could have a comfortable and predictable life.  Sometimes I think that’s what I want when I’m really honest with myself.

But instead, Paul, who used to have a plush life, is telling us to “forget what is behind.”  I’d read this verse a dozen times in reference to the painful parts of my past, but suddenly it smacked me between the eyes with a new meaning: sometimes “forgetting what is behind” means we even have to forget (or turn our focus from) the GOOD things that are behind us so that we can focus on what is ahead of us.

I’d never thought that I might need to forget the good things of the past by not giving them so much thought.

 

Later in Philippians 4, Paul tells us the secret to his contentment.  “…For I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation.  For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need” (Phil. 4:11-13).

With the help of Christ, we can forget what is behind and focus on what He is doing right now right in front of us.

I can focus not on the crusty toothpaste cup but on the two young lives I get to pour into.

I can focus not on the mud hole but on the home the Lord is building within these walls that is a love like I’ve never known before.

I can focus not on the nasty couch made possible by a particularly crazy dog who has rubbed off on my calm dog, but on the ways I’m getting to learn and choose to love all of God’s creations.  And bless his doggy heart, he sure tries to sit calmly sometimes…we’re both learning.

 

When I’m tempted to stew on the good things of the past, I can choose to make my mind remember that Jesus is doing something good now.  And that’s where He wants me to place my thoughts.  He’s still not done with this story.

 

Today, I sit in a quiet, clean space to work.  But all I can think about it getting home to that currently cramped and chaotic place we call home.  I’m thankful for a fresh perspective and a reminder that God wants my attention only on today and what good He’s preparing to do next.

When I walk through that door on Tuesday night, I might feel like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life after he gets a second chance at his crazy, beautiful life.  I might even exclaim like George, “I love you crusty toothpaste cup!  I love you mud hole!  I love you nasty couch!”

It’s all about perspective: We forget what is behind. We strain toward what is ahead.

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Puzzle Pieces

My heart pounded, and my hands grew clammy as I waited for her response.

“The likelihood that any of your future children would have Leigh’s Disease is 25%,” she said. “You are both recessive carriers of this gene.  There is a 1 in 70,000 chance that two people would both carry it.  However,…you do both carry it.”

With disappointment, I let out the breath I had been holding.  The genetic counselor was younger than me, clearly pregnant with her first child, and bubbling over with joy and possibility (or so I assumed).  I glanced out the window. The clouds were low and thick on the dark, gray January day, perfectly reflecting the condition of my heart.  It had been only two months since our son passed away.

I hadn’t yet grieved the loss of my son, and now I also had to grieve the loss of not having more biological children.

There was risk.  I wanted to be a mother so badly that I was willing to risk loving and losing another child.  A 75% gamble in a positive direction seemed pretty good to me.  But my husband didn’t feel the same way, and I understood that perspective, too.  We’d just gone through hell.

As we asked our final questions and tried to comprehend what this would mean for the future, the genetic counselor added, “Well, with someone else, the chance would be back to 1 in 70,000, but with the two of you it is 1 in 4.”

Dagger in my heart.  My eyebrows furrowed at the thought, Why would she even say something like that at a time like this?  It seemed so insensitive.  “Someone else” was not on the table and never would be.

 

The next few months, I had some pretty stiff words with God.  He knew that I wanted to be a mother so badly, more than anything else.  I missed the smell of baby head, cooing over him as I changed his diaper, his big blue eyes and edible toes.  I missed my first glimpse of him in the mornings.  I missed him so much.

“Lord,” I wept, “Why are You doing this to me? YOU have given me this strong desire to be a mother, and I am so thankful that I got to be Tage’s mom for eight wonderful months.  But I don’t understand this at all.  How can I ever be a mother with a husband who doesn’t want to risk biological children and doesn’t want to adopt? How are You going to resolve this?  Will I ever feel happy again?”

Molly, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

“Yes, Lord, I know that verse.  But what exactly do You mean.  You’ll give me what I desire?  Or You’ll put in me new desires You want me to have?  I don’t know.  I know You know the way You made me, and I want to delight myself in You above all, not in my role as a mother…But I don’t understand….This just seems so cruel.”  I took a deep breath. “…but I know You’re not cruel. Help me.”

Molly, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 “Ugh, I know, God.  I know this is what You say.  Help me to believe it.  I don’t know how you will deal with this desire in me, but I trust that either You will help me to be okay with not having children, or you will take this desire away from me.  I want what You want for me.  I know You love me, and I know Your way is best.  I just really, really don’t understand it now.”

It’s going to be okay, Molly.  I promise.  I know what I’m doing.

I blew my nose one more time.

I looked at my dog, Marty, lying on the floor beside me.  “Now we wait and see,” I whispered.

 

Three months later, I met my friend Kara for a glass of wine and sushi.  While shoving California Roll into my mouth, I relayed the information the genetic counselor had told us and of my husband’s desires regarding more children.  “So…that’s that,” I concluded resolvedly.

“I’m so sorry, Mol,” she began.  She paused.  “But I had a dream recently, one of the ones where it feels real.  You just know it.”  I nodded along.  “You were pregnant, Molly, beaming with joy!  I woke up from this dream, and I just knew it was prophetic.  I really believe God told me you will be pregnant one day!”

Kara is not the type to throw prophecies around.  In fact, she had never done so before in the history of our friendship, and she’s not one to say something to make me “feel” better, because really, that would have been cruel.

I wanted to believe her so badly.  I thought about it long after our conversation. But my husband didn’t want biological kids.  Or adopted kids.  I wouldn’t divorce him for this, so clearly, the Lord was going to do something with those three pieces, and I would have to surrender to it.

But the Lord has way more pieces than we ever imagine.

I came across this powerful reminder this week:

 “When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, Abraham believed Him. God had also said, ‘Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars,’ even though such a promise seemed utterly impossible!  And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though he knew he was too old to be a father at the age of one hundred and that Sarah, his wife, had never been able to have children.

“Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger and in this he brought glory to God.  He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything He promised” (Romans 4:18-21).

When God speaks, do we believe Him?  When promises or dreams seem utterly impossible to us, does our faith weaken?  When all the pieces we hold in our hand about the situation don’t fit to construct what we have in our mind, what do we do with them?  When it’s not working the way we thought, do we waver in belief or grow stronger in faith?

Abraham was just a man.  He wanted a child, and so did his wife, probably more than anything else.  For decades, the answer was not “no,” it was “not yet.”  But they didn’t know that, of course.  When God finally said, “Okay, now,” Sarah laughed.  She knew she was too old, and that having a baby would be impossible.

But the pieces God holds make nothing impossible.

Do we know that about Him?  Abraham did. “He was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything He promised.”  Are we absolutely convinced that God is able to do anything He promises?  A conviction like this takes personal experience with Him.

 

 

In those dark and gray early months of 2015, God already knew what He was going to do with this desire He put in me.  He already knew I was about to go through an unwanted divorce, grieve that, move out of my house, be introduced to a guy named Guy who had experienced similar losses to mine, fall in love with him, move to Kentucky, and marry him in my dad’s backyard on a beautiful fall evening.

 

 

And He also knew that in April of 2018, we’d get to see our baby for the first time.

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Pieces, that in 2015, I had no idea God even held.  But He did.

…and Molly was absolutely convinced that God was able to do anything He promised.

 

 

 

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4

“I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.”  Joel 2:25

 

 

 

Help Publish Tage’s Story

Dear Faithful Blog Reader,

I know God doesn’t waste our pain, and I knew He would do something with Tage’s story.  And He did.  He began using Tage’s story, as I wrote it down, to change people’s lives.  Through Tage’s life and death, God showed us His love in the midst of great suffering and of the hope we have in Jesus, even when life is falling apart.  As many of you know, from reading our story at http://www.mollyhuffman.com, the pain didn’t end after Tage’s death.  The losses, one after another, reminded some people of Job in the Bible.  Yet, despite his suffering, Job still trusted God.  That is a story we can all relate to even today.  It’s a story that God is leading me tell.

This week, I had the opportunity to speak with a former literary agent and successful professional in the publishing world who now coaches authors.  He was really excited about this story and invited me to work with him.  His expertise would help make sure the writing and proposal are as polished as they can be, and he would help me develop a platform so that a publisher will feel comfortable taking the financial risk of publishing this story (because, after all, even Christian publishing is a business).

I sense God calling me to do this as I honor His story through my story and through Tage’s story.

A year of the coach’s time, expertise, and editing will cost $9,997.  To me, that is A LOT of money, and I lost sleep over that number last night.  But this morning, God reminded me that it is not a lot of money to Him.

People need Hope.  They need to know Jesus cares for them in their suffering, and that is what this book would do.  It’s already over 50% written, but it needs a little more polish.

The amount I’d like to raise will cover the cost of the coach at $9,997 with a 2.9% fee from GoFundMe.  To cover the cost and the fee, we need to raise $10,287.  I need to tell this coach by Tuesday if I am able to work with him.  Otherwise, he will (wisely) move on to other projects.

If you would like to participate in furthering this story as part of God’s story, please consider donating.

All donations are important.  Every dollar adds up.  But as an extra thank you, donations of $1,000 or more will be first on the book tour schedule: I will come speak for FREE (with the newly published book) at an event of your choosing — a group of four around a dinner table or a group of a thousand. Whatever you want to do, I will be there!
To God be the glory!  He’s got this.

To donate, click this link: https://www.gofundme.com/publish-tage039s-story

 

…And Then, We Celebrate!

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God actually does follow through on His promise to redeem our pain.

 

In the midst of loss, disappointment, grief, divorce, change, death, and questioning, we are invited to press on, to press INTO Him, and sometimes we do.  But we still wonder if He will hold up His end.  Will He really turn all of it into something good?  Or will I be left suffering forever?

Throughout my grieving years, I wondered when THIS post would get to happen, if ever.  When would I have something to squeal and cheer and shout from the top of the coffee table?  After so many sad corners, when could my story finally turn a happy one?  When could I write light-hearted words?

In the midst of the darkness, it seemed impossible to imagine it.

 

But today is the day!

Because, well….

 

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To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of BEAUTY for ashes,
a JOYOUS BLESSING instead of mourning,
    festive PRAISE instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.  (Isaiah 61:3)

 

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When the Lord RESTORED

it was like a dream!

We were filled with LAUGHTER,

And we SANG FOR JOY.

And the other nations said,

“What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!

What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,

As streams RENEW the desert.

Those who plant in tears

   Will harvest with shouts of joy.

They weep as they go to plant their seed,

But they sing as they return with the harvest.  (Psalm 126)

 

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Surely the Lord has done great things!
     Don’t be afraid, O land.
Be glad now and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things.
 Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
    for the wilderness pastures will SOON be green.
The trees will again be FILLED with LUSCIOUS fruit;
    fig trees and grapevines will FLOURISH once more.
 Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
    Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
    Once more the autumn rains will come,
    as well as the rains of spring.
The threshing floors will again be PILED HIGH with grain,
    and the presses will OVERFLOW with new wine and olive oil.

(from Joel 2:20-24)

 

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“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”  (Joel 2:25)

 

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Can we even believe it?

He does repay us for the devastated years, just like He said He would.

 

Some of you knew this day would come the whole time.  I know who you are, you dear people.  Others, like me, just clung tightly with crossed fingers hoping that I wouldn’t look foolish at the end as I continued determinedly to Hope.  But that’s what faith is, isn’t it, clinging fiercely and continuing to Hope?

Many of you, sweet and faithful readers and friends, have followed this whole, treacherous journey.  You have chosen to allow yourself to feel my pain.  You’ve cried with me, prayed fervently for me, and sent thoughtful gifts to remind me I am never alone.  You’ve shared my story of pain and Jesus with the hope of encouraging your loved ones.  You’ve been beside me the whole time, cheering fervently, even if we’ve never met.

And now forever, I am spilling over with gratitude for you.  You‘ve been the glitter mixed in with the mess.

How could I invite you into my grief and not also invite you to the celebration?

 

So today, we cheer!  Together through this screen between us, we raise our hearts and our hands, pump our fanatic fists up and down, and giddily squeal, “Lord, you are amazing!  There are not words to describe you!”

Because He did it, you guys.

He has done what He said He would do: beauty for ashes, blessing instead of mourning.

 

As the verses above promise, so it is.  He redeems our pain and rewrites our stories to be more beautiful than we could have ever imagined in our childhood dreams.

The story of restoration He is writing in my life is beautiful.  The dark, menacing storm cloud has passed, and His praise pours from my lips.  Look at what He has done!  Look at how He has revealed Himself to be who He says He is.  Because of this man in my life, my husband, my lips are full of smiles and my mouth is constantly filled with laughter.  Because of these girls, our daughters, I get to sing many new songs and giggle at God’s goodness.  Their abundant and extravagant love is filling in the cracks and holes of the past, and again I am in awe of the Lord’s care and compassion for His people.  What gifts He has given me in these three people!

 

“The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.”   (Psalm 118:23)

 

And before I continue, feet to the ground and on to the next year, I must stop.

Today, before I go forward from here, I imagine I’m in the end scene of a long, dramatic movie: With husband and daughters ahead of me, I stop.  And I turn around to see Him, behind me cheering me forward.  I drop the things I carry, run back to Him, and fall at His feet.  I look up at his brave, fierce and tender eyes, and He bends down.  He grins with a calm sparkle in His eye because we both know what just happened.  Then, we see them.  He reaches His hand to me and gently rubs His fingers across the scars that I will always bear from these years, though now they have begun to fade into the flesh of my soul.  We both know the pain from this battle, but I never fought alone.  Every second He fought beside me, behind me, and before me.  It was a doozy, and we both know it. Slowly, He stands to His feet, outstretching a hand to pull me up when suddenly my eyes see His wrist and my heart remembers: His body bear scars, too.

He knows this pain, and He knows the redemption.  He knows what He’s doing, and He has all along.

 

When my mom died, I thought, “How will I live without her wisdom and love?” But God said, “I will comfort and guide you.”

As I left the grave side of my 8 month-old son, I thought, “How will I ever have strength to keep going after today?”  But God said, “I will give you a strength that you will only find in Me.”

When I heard the words, “I’m done,” from my husband, I thought, “But who am I if I’m not a wife?  I never dreamed I’d be ‘divorced!’”  But God said, “Let me show you who you are in My eyes, Molly.”

As I handed over the keys to my house, moved into an apartment, and later moved to a new state, I thought, “Where is Home now?  Where is my place to ‘put my shoulders down?’” But God said, “Come and see how you can find rest and security in Me.”

He has shown me how He is enough.  And now I can say like David:

“The suffering You sent was good for me,

   For it taught me to pay attention to Your principles.

Your law is more valuable to me

   Than millions in gold or silver!”  (Psalm 119:71-72)

 

This is not The End.  This is not “…and they all lived happily ever after in Morehead, Kentucky.”  The journey to here has taken years, and I know if I’m still on this Earth, He’s not done refining me.

But today, in this moment, I want to pause and remember where I’ve been and what He’s done.  And when I do, I can shout with certainty, “The Lord is faithful!  Oh my gosh, He really is faithful, just as He’s always said!  All the words He says are true.”

I can say like Job, “I had heard about You before, but now I have seen You with my own eyes” (Job 42:5).

 

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today.  Perhaps you’re like I have been, wondering if you could REALLY trust God’s promises.  You have read how He’s restored people in the Bible, but you are unsure if He could really do the same in your situation, or if He even wants to.

Perhaps you are turning many difficult corners with no end in sight.  Perhaps there are dreams stirring in you, but a path to their fulfillment seems impossible.  Maybe you’ve lost someone.  Maybe you’re losing someone.

Maybe the locusts have destroyed everything that matters.

 

My friend, just keep clinging to His promises above.  Write them down.  Post them in your home and in your car.  They are TRUE.  He will not fail you as you seek Him in the midst of your pain.

Right now, it may seem that you’re looking at death.  Dead relationships.  Dead dreams.  Dead plans for your future.  But with Christ: after death comes life.  Always.

And then, we celebrate!

 

… and there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,

“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty,
    for the Lord is good;
    his love endures forever.”

For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord. 

(Jeremiah 33:10b-11)

Thank you, Lord.  You are good, and Your love endures forever.

Amen.

New Songs and Merle

I’m learning a lot of new songs lately.

It started when I rode in Guy’s truck that first time I visited him in Kentucky.  I remember him turning the radio on and stopping at what I would say sounded like a twangy, old, country song from decades ago that no one would know now.  I laughed at how horrible it sounded, mentally shaking my head that anyone would ever want to listen to this nastiness!

I looked over at Guy to laugh along with him.  But he wasn’t trying to be funny.

Crickets….

What?  He actually liked this song?!

I turned toward the window, not wanting him to see my eyebrows crinkle and my lips purse.  It was painful.  Oww!  No, I can’t possibly listen to this!  But we had just started dating, and I didn’t want to knock something he clearly loved.

So I sat in it, marinating in the sour sound waves of a type of country music that was nowhere to be found on the radio stations I knew.

But then Guy started to sing along, with whom I would later learn was Merle Haggard, and I sneakily turned my ear toward him.  I listened to the deep sound of his voice and the sentimental words he was singing, which were both quite charming.

First time we met is a favorite memory of mine
They say time changes all it pertains to
But your memory is stronger than time
I guess everything does change except what you choose to recall
There’s a million good daydreams to dream on
But baby, you are my favorite memory of all

 “They don’t write thoughtful love songs like that anymore, do they?” I said as I smiled and hummed along with the chorus.

Now, here we are a year later. We’re getting married next week, and doggonit if I didn’t just express disappointment over the fact that I didn’t buy that old Dolly Parton record we saw at Half Price Books last week!

 

Old country songs aren’t the only new songs I’m singing these days.  Thanks to a sweet 8-year-old girl and a sweet 11-year-old girl whose first action upon entering my car is to plug in the old phone with their downloaded music, I am staying up-to-date on the most recent girly pop music, too.  I can belt a little Meghan Trainor and Bruno Mars with the best of ‘em!

Even at church, I am learning new songs with new styles, new leaders, new people next to me in the rows.  The Audience is the same, and that’s why I sing them in the first place.

 

We can learn to sing new songs.  New songs have to be taught to us.  Slowly.  Or by modeling. For me, there’s usually a lot of repetition involved, and for years, I drove my sisters crazy in the car because as I’d learn a new song on the radio, I’d mumble along, even when I didn’t know the words.  But that’s how I learn new songs!

It’s been said that music is the language of the soul.  There’s something about music that goes deeper into us.  The music I listen to shapes me, and the words my ears hear my own lips proclaim become part of my belief system.

I think this is why the songs we sing are so important.  I think that’s why the Bible talks about songs and singing a lot.

The Lord is my strength and my song… (Ex. 15:2)

David sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul.  (2 Sam. 22:1)

And each morning and evening they stood before the Lord to sing songs of thanks and praise to him. (1 Chor. 23:30)

Instead, glorify his mighty works, singing songs of praise. (Job 36:24)

You surround me with songs of victory. (Ps. 32:7)

Our mouths were made to praise Him!  Our ears need to hear us praise Him.  Our souls are glad to praise Him.

 

Though we are not always in seasons of rejoicing, are we?  Sometimes it’s easy to sing happy songs, and other times we feel we have nothing to sing about.

But those are the times we know that God is about to teach us some new songs.

 

Three years ago this month, I was watching my son die.  Two years ago this month, I was watching my marriage die.  There were many tears and restless nights.  The thought of singing happy songs made my heart crumble.

So, I sang sad songs.  Sad songs are okay, too.  In fact, the greatest gift some of my closest friends gave me during those years is that they did not try to come in with a pep talk and tell me how it would eventually get better (even though they knew that it would).  Instead, they took the advice of Proverbs 25:20.

“Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart
    is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather
    or pouring vinegar in a wound.”

In those moments, they didn’t say, “but look at all the things you can be grateful for” and they didn’t come share their happy news of babies and marriages just yet.

The way my friends showed me love was by being willing to be sad next to me.  They learned the sad song I was singing in those months, and they sang along.

Because sometimes, even with Hope, you just need to sing a sad song.

And because He promises the darkness will not last forever.

“The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles.
 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.”  Psalm 34:17-19

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,                        that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!”  Psalm 30:11-12

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord”.  Psalm 40:1-3

 

After all that pain, the Lord has turned my mourning into joy.  The Bible mentions the phrase “new song” nine different times, and I am so thankful that I no longer am singing only the sad songs.  I have seen how the Lord used the pain for good, and I have something to sing about – for one, I’m getting married next week to the man I love!  I have put my trust in God, and I am amazed.

This new song feels good to sing.  Really, really good.

 

I wonder what song God has given you to sing in this season.  Are you in a season of joy and gratitude?  Sing loud!  Are you experiencing grief?  Sing your sad song, whisper it even.  Perhaps you are in great moments of change.  Can you sing a trusting song anyway?  God has given each of us a song for today.  Are we singing it?  Are we willing to learn the new songs He wants to teach us, too?  Are we aware that the songs we are singing are being picked up and hummed along by those around us?  The songs we sing matter.

 

But life is not like a movie, is it?  I wish I could say to you, “…and Molly and Guy lived happily ever after.”  But happily ever after isn’t promised to us until Jesus returns.

In the meantime, there will still be life.  I will be learning many new songs even as we go from here.  Songs titled, “How Do Four People Produce So Much Laundry?” and “Ode to the Days When I Had Too Much Alone Time” and “Oh, Hey! I Found Another Pet Hair in my Food.”

I know the Lord will continue to teach me new songs as I take on the roles of wife, stepmom, and small town resident.  Learning these songs will take time, lots of repetition, and I’ll probably awkwardly mumble along until I get the words right.

I want to learn these new songs.  I want to keep learning new songs of joy, courage, and faith.

Because I can see there will also be songs titled, “Redemption” and “Belly Laughs” and “I Never Knew Love Could Feel This Good.”

And those are the songs I can’t wait to sing at the top of my lungs.

Well, those…and Merle.

Merle

 

 

Knobs and Hollers

 

My running route takes me through the Appalachian foothills and past Roger’s house.  Sometimes, he sits on his front porch and calls to me with a big, toothless smile and a wave as I run by, but usually he comes out to the road to chat.  Roger is a seventy-two-year old gentleman who told me he is “re-turd.”  It took me a few seconds before I realized he was telling me he was retired.

One day as I was rounding the corner, he met me in the road for what would be our third chat to date.  I stood eye-to-eye with Roger in his plaid shirt and jeans as we talked about the 8-inch siding on his house.  Then he suddenly commented, “well, my, you are very sweaty” as he literally wiped the sweat from my forehead with the tattooed knuckle of his index finger.

I was both aghast and touched by the unexpected gesture from a stranger.

Since then, Roger has stopped me from walking into the electric wire around his garden, and he single-handedly bludgeoned a snake to death who was sunning itself a little too closely to us on the warm pavement.  He also regularly warns me of the traffic that comes around his corner too fast, so I need to be careful as I run there.  That’s my buddy, Rog.

Sometimes, I do have to work hard to understand Roger, but I have begun to pick up on a few new or new-sounding words.  When I hear him say the word “hill” he means “heel” and when he says “heel” he’s referencing a “hill.”  I’ve also learned the word “holler” as in the hollow place between two hills – a valley, if you will – and the word “knob” in reference to the tops of those hills.

I am not in Flat Indiana anymore.

One of the tall points around here is Tater Knob (yes, that’s puh-tater without the puh.  No, actually I don’t know what the Tater comes from, and neither does the Internet.)  But it is one of the most beautiful views.   I made it halfway to the top of the lookout tower at Tater Knob before I lost faith in the shaky, man-made structure and had to claw my way back down the handrails to the safe soil below.  But I will conquer you, Tater Knob, you mark my words!

 

 

It’s been two months since I moved to Kentucky.  I now have a Kentucky driver’s license and license plate.  To be honest, which I always try to be, it has been a beautifully messy adjustment.  I wonder how long it takes to feel at Home in a new place?

Guy’s mom and step-dad, Madonna and Jim, have been incredibly gracious hosts to me.  I have full run of two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.  Madonna even set up one room to be my office, and it has a little living space with a futon and a TV, too.  We’ve enjoyed baking together, and she just walked in with a bag of cashews from the bulk bin at Kroger for me because she knows how much I like them.  And Curmudgeony Jim is not a complete curmudgeon at all.  In fact, he makes us coffee every morning (well sometimes he heats up yesterday’s coffee), and we stand around the kitchen island talking about who knows what until it’s time for one of us to go on about our day.  I really like them.  Being around them feels like family.

Because I miss my family.  And friends.

 

The day my sister, Ellie, drove out of the driveway back to Indiana was the hardest I’ve cried in a year and a half.  I anticipated her leaving as she and I drove home from Diary Queen that evening, knowing she’d depart once we got back to the house.  The largest, painful lump formed in my throat just thinking about it, and tears seeped up into my eyes.

She looked over at me there in the driver’s seat, as I tried miserably to keep it all together, and then she said with a tone full of pity, “Oh…” And I was done.  Cried like a baby.

I kept crying to Guy, who told me it was okay to cry about it, so I kept at it.  Then, I cried on a walk talking to God about it.  Some time later, I finally quit crying, but then as soon as I thought of Ellie again, I cried some more.

I knew I’d miss the people most, but I hoped that maybe it wouldn’t be as hard as I thought.  I’m just thankful for cell phones and unlimited data, or I’d still be crying tears “like a tall cow peeing on a flat rock!” (I learned that phrase down here.)

 

 

But it hasn’t been all tears at all!  I’ve smiled big smiles and laughed belly laughs a whole lot more than I’ve cried.

There was the time Guy’s dog, Lincoln, who has vision issues, ran full-force into the table leg.  Bless him.

Or when Guy’s girls reach for my hand as we cross the parking lot or walk through a store.

There was the time when our friend Dorm, who manages the B-dubs, said he heard I liked rosé so he asked what kind he should order for me so they’d have it in stock.  Or another time at B-dubs (there aren’t many restaurant options here) when one friend left for a bit only to come back with a birthday cake for me.

There was the time when a couple of my new friends showed up one morning with this sign they made for me as a surprise.

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It’s a handmade wooden frame and a beautifully crafted canvas.  Contact @kindredspiritsandco and they’ll make you whatever you want, too!

 

But the time that put the absolute biggest smile on my face was one Sunday night when Guy took me out to the lake, the same place where one year ago he showed me the beauty of star-gazing in the country.  We stood down next to the water (me in my sweaty running clothes because I had no idea what was coming, despite his gentle nudge that perhaps I’d want to get out of them before we left) and watched the most beautiful full moon rise and glisten over the surface as we talked about the past incredible year that brought us to this place.  Then, he asked me to be his wife!

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As you can see by that smile, I said yes.  We’re getting married in October!

 

 

And so that’s how it’s been, this first summer in Kentucky.  A bunch of emotional ups and downs and ups again.

Just when I think I’ve gotten myself under control, I see a photo on Instagram that makes me feel I’m missing out in a dozen different ways.  Simply put: moving here did not magically take away my affection for the things I left in Indy like dining in downtown restaurants or my longing to be with friends.

But as I was reading this week, I was reminded that it’s not my feelings that control me, it’s my thoughts.  My thoughts determine my actions, and my actions determine how I feel.  As author Kay Warren says, “You can’t command a feeling, but you can command a thought and an action.”

Want proof we can control our thoughts?  Okay, picture a really tall tree covered in pink bow ties.  See.  You can command a thought.

That’s why Paul urges us in Colossians 3:2 to choose to “THINK about the things of Heaven, not the things of earth.”  We are invited to constantly bring back to our minds who God says He is and the life-giving truths found in His word and the reminder that He’s always working things for our good.

 

In the moments when I let my lonely, unsettled, or insecure feelings determine the truth, I am easily tempted to believe I will remain empty.  But when I take those feelings to God and speak His truth into my own mind, I remember He has filled me with purpose and given me all I need to live out His love right where I am.

Here’s Jesus’ personal invitation to us:

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax…Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”  (Jesus in Matthew 6:32-34, MSG)

 

But I won’t deny it has been hard to just sit in it.  To sit in the newness.  Nothing is going to dramatically change over-night.  It will take time to develop deep friendships, and it will take years to make new favorite traditions.  Often, I long for the comfort of being deeply known by the people around me, for not feeling like the new teacher who has so much to learn and knows only a few people at the district teacher breakfast, for a house that is mine and contains the people I love.

Feeling physically and emotionally settled feels so far out of sight from here.

Yet, then I remember this encouragement from our friend, James:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4 italics mine)

 

There is purpose in the challenges.  Always.  And when we command our mind to think about THESE things instead of all the “buts” and “what ifs,” our feelings start to change.

So when I’ve sensed the anxiety creep in, I ask myself two questions: What feelings am I allowing to control me today?  And what are the things God has said that conquer that feeling?

This is the human condition.

We want paradise, but God says that’s coming later.                                                                  We want great comfort, but God says He wants great character.                                           We want to feel better, but God says He wants us to think better.

This is the life lesson I’m still learning right now.

 

Though this summer has felt like one big roller coaster of emotional ups and downs and ups and downs, I’m not surprised by this.  I know change is hard.  I know Christ promised us “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

So just because something is hard or uncomfortable doesn’t make it wrong.  In fact, it might be the best thing.

This thought caused me to look up a verse in my head about the Lord making our paths straight.  How can we have ups and downs if He promises straight paths?  Isn’t that contradictory?

In Psalm 5:8, David prays to the Lord, “…make Your way straight before me.”  Another translation says, “…lead me in the right path.”

In other words, he’s talking about having an assured DIRECTION.

It’s not that there aren’t ups and down and a whole bunch of crazy along the way, but in the midst of it, do we know where we’re going?  Do we KNOW where we’re headed and why we’re choosing that way despite what’s happening around us and how it FEELS?

 

My very first run in Kentucky was depressing.  The hills were killer.  I longed for my flat rail trail more than I longed for my bag of shoes that was buried somewhere deep in the rented storage unit.  I remember seeing the hill named Jackson for the first time – tall and winding, steeper than anything I’d ever run before.  It looked awful.  It felt awful.  Five steps in and I was gasping for breath. I wondered if there would ever be a day I could run to the top without walking.

The direction was clear and straight: I knew exactly how to get to the top, but I also knew it would be rough.  Day after day, I would start…and then walk. The next day I might get a little farther, or I might not.

Until today, two months in.  I made it.  If I hadn’t known exactly what prize I was going for, I might have stopped.  But there was a direction – a straight path – that prompted me to push through the pain.  And now my legs and lungs are much stronger than they were that first day.  Watch out, Tater Knob….

 

As we journey the ups and downs of life, with our eyes fixed on Christ, assured that He is working in the midst of everything, we are given assured direction:

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments”  (Matthew 22:36-40).

“Our great desire is that you will keep right on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.  Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going in inherit God’s promises because of their faith” (Hebrews 6:11-12).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Our direction is always certain, even when the road is long and rugged.

There will be knobs and hollers, highs and lows, our entire life.  But our path is always straight: Love God. Love others. Never stop seeking Him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Eyes on the Coach.  Stay the course.  You can’t lose.

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